Vols express determination

Vols express determination

October 11th, 2011 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

KNOXVILLE -- Jacques Smith isn't one for curses.

Never mind the torn ligaments in receiver Justin Hunter's knee or the broken thumb on quarterback Tyler Bray's throwing hand, said Tennessee's sophomore defensive end from Ooltewah.

Add those injuries to the absences of the Volunteers' projected top two defensive players -- linebacker Herman Lathers (fractured ankle) and safety Janzen Jackson (preseason dismissal) -- and seemingly anything that could go wrong has gone wrong for the team this season.

"I feel like we're perfectly fine," Smith said Monday. "I don't think that were cursed. I think it's a natural happening in football. It's no big deal.

"That's the thing about football. It's a game of adversity, and we've just got to somehow find out how to overcome it. We'll definitely find that out this week."

The Vols have little time to sulk over the bad luck that's befallen them. Top-ranked LSU visits Knoxville on Saturday afternoon. UT already was without Lathers and Jackson when the season began and lost Hunter in the third game, a loss at Florida.

Losing Bray late in Saturday night's loss to Georgia, though, is the most significant blow for the Vols. The sophomore will miss most of the rest of the season, and Matt Simms now takes over the offense again.

"I told the team it's going to be doom and gloom around here -- let's just call it like is -- because of what's happened," second-year coach Derek Dooley said. "We've had some tough luck, and it will be doom and gloom if we don't correct some of the things that affect how we're playing. If we put our head down or we don't go out there and play the best we can play, it will be doom and gloom. We're going to get annihilated.

"But if we go out there and compete like we're capable of and not lose composure, we'll see what happens."

Every one of Simms' teammates who met with the media Monday cited confidence in the senior's abilities as a leader and a quarterback. Simms started the first eight games last season and nearly led the Vols to an upset win against the Tigers in Baton Rouge. Dooley noted Simms' professionalism in handling losing his job to Bray, who had thrown for 1,529 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.

"Everyone was pretty upset," defensive lineman Malik Jackson said. "Tyler's a big part of our offense and we had already lost J-Hunt. ... I think everybody's behind Matt Simms, and we just can't worry about what happened to Bray until he comes back.

"The next person has to step up. We have a great amount of confidence in Matt Simms. We know that he can get the job done. That's all that matters. You've got people who have got to step up. They come here for a reason, and we'll see how they do."

The trick for Dooley and his staff will be keeping up the morale of the Vols' young roster. UT rallied after a 2-6 start last year, but this season's personnel losses present a different challenge. The schedule also is less forgiving, with games against Alabama, South Carolina and Arkansas in the four weeks after LSU's visit.

Dooley said the Vols were "good" during Sunday's practice, and the coach went back into his bag of analogies with his team and with the media Monday. This time Dooley invoked the story of James Stockdale, a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War.

"What he said was that the optimists would say, 'I'm going to get out by Christmas,' and then Christmas would come," Dooley said. "'I'm going to get out by Easter,' and then Easter would come. 'I'm going to be out by the summer,' then the summer wouldn't come, and their spirit would get broken and they'd die because they'd quit."

The point Dooley wanted to make was the importance of never losing hope and faith.

"I don't have any doubts that Tennessee is going to be what Tennessee expects to be, but we also have to confront some tough, brutal facts that we're facing right now," he said. "Is it going to be tough? You're dang right. Nobody's going to feel sorry for Tennessee, and they're not going to feel sorry for me, and that's OK. But I'm not going to go in the tank because we've had some things that happened to us that make it a lot more challenging. We've just got to find solutions."

The Vols start that search with three important days of practice.

"We realize what's gone on, but we feel like we have people on the team that can still perform," center James Stone said. "We're not going to lie to ourselves, but we feel good because we're confident in everybody on this team. We're going to prepare and we're going to go out there and work."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.